O'Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake, 518 U.S. 712 (1996)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 95-191. Argued March 20, 1996—Decided June 28, 1996

Respondent city maintains a rotation list of available companies to perform towing services at its request. Until the events recounted here, the city's policy had been to remove companies from the list only for cause. Petitioner O'Hare Truck Service, Inc., was removed from the list after its owner, petitioner Gratzianna, refused to contribute to respondent mayor's reelection campaign and instead supported his opponent. Alleging that the removal was in retaliation for Gratzianna's campaign stance and caused petitioners to lose substantial income, petitioners filed this suit under 42 U. S. C. 1983. The District Court dismissed the complaint in conformity with Seventh Circuit precedent that Elrod v. Burns, 427 U. S. 347 (plurality opinion), and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U. S. 507—in which the Court held that government officials may not discharge public employees for refusing to support a political party or its candidates, unless political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the job in question—do not extend to independent contractors. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Held: The protections of Elrod and Branti extend to an instance where government retaliates against a contractor, or a regular provider of services, for the exercise of rights of political association or the expression of political allegiance. Pp. 716-726. (a) In assessing when party affiliation, consistent with the First Amendment, may be an acceptable basis for terminating a public employee, "the ultimate inquiry is not whether the label 'policymaker' or 'confidential' fits a particular position; rather, the question is whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." Branti, supra, at 518. A different, though related, inquiry, the balancing test from Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School Dist. 205, Will Cty., 391 U. S. 563, is called for where a government employer takes adverse action on account of an employee or service provider's right of free speech. In Elrod and Branti, the raw test of political affiliation sufficed to show a constitutional violation. However, since the inquiry is whether the affiliation requirement is reasonable, it is inevitable that some case-by-case adjudication will be required even

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